It’s time to put the spotlight on another of Classical music’s greats - you don’t get called “Father of the Symphony” for no reason! That’s right, Franz Joseph Haydn is on the Classical in Conversation blog today.

And do not underestimate the significance of this composer in the western classical music tradition. Being a friend and mentor to Mozart and tutor to Beethoven turned out to be quite the influential position (not that he knew it then!).

Refining His Craft

Haydn was Austrian born and started his musical training at a pretty young age, learning the harpsichord and violin. He also sang in the church choir, which eventually got him a position as a chorister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral – a position which he held for nine years!

When he was no longer able to sing those super high choral parts, Haydn kicked off his career as a freelance musician, a job which, it turns out, hasn’t evolved too much in a few hundred years! Teaching, busking and accompanying were the sort of jobs you’d find him accepting. Who can relate?

After some time, he began building a bit of a reputation for himself, which gained him his first bit of aristocratic patronage – the type of work that was essential for a career as a composer back in the days before Spotify…

Haydn was employed by all manner of Counts, Lords and Ladies before being hired by Prince Paul Anton, head of an extremely wealthy family, who employed him as music director of his estate, with responsibilities such as composing, running the orchestra (yes, these people HAD an orchestra!), playing chamber music, and lots more. It was quite the demanding job role! With daily access to an orchestra, this was the perfect place to refine the art of composition. He stayed there for 30 years!

Haydn did do some travelling to London over the years, a place in which he was very well received. Large audiences would show up at his concerts which only increased his fame and profits too! He created some of his best work on his trips to England, including the Surprise, Military, Drumroll and London symphonies, and the “Gypsy Rondo” piano trio too.

A Living Clavier

When describing his style of composition, Haydn noted “I am really just a living clavier”, talking about how the pieces just come to him. When his heart was racing, he usually had a nice Allegro tune waiting to come out! Couple this with his honest, humorous and cheerful character, and you’ve got the recipe for some jolly and upbeat music. The perfect example of this is his “Sonata in G Major, Hob. XVI: 8, Fourth Movement (Allegro)”, which can be found in the RSL Classical Piano Grade 3 syllabus. The piece is light and positive, and we think it’s almost impossible to not smile when playing this one.

Another of our Haydn favourites is his “Allegro in F Major” which can be found in the RSL Classical Piano Grade 4 syllabus. This one also embodies the character of Haydn himself, whilst also giving the Grade 4 player something to think about – it’s full of technical challenges that you’ll want to sink your teeth into. Haydn was incredibly talented at taking a simple musical motif and turning it into a far larger work, and this piece is also a fantastic example of that. Though our version isn’t very long, you can see the simple melodic idea taking shape and then reappearing and developing as the piece goes on.

It’s safe to say that Haydn is a real happy and joyful mood for the summer, and we can’t get enough of it! We hope you enjoy skipping through these melodies as much as we do.

Why not find out more about the people surrounding Haydn during his lifetime? We’ve got Mozart and Beethoven ready and waiting!